Vindication of a scientist?

People are saying Larry Summers is “vindicated” by a study showing males have higher variance in math ability than females. Does it make sense to talk of vindication for a scientist when data is found supporting his or her hypothesis?

According to Google:

Definitions of Vindicated on the Web:
* absolved: freed from any question of guilt; “is absolved from all blame”; “was now clear of the charge of cowardice”; “his official honor is …

* “Vindicated” is a song by Dashboard Confessional released on the 2004 soundtrack for the movie Spider-Man 2. This track can be considered the theme for the Spider-Man 2 movie. The song is also featured on the Bonus Track edition of their 2006 album, Dusk and Summer.

* justified, avenged or cleared of blame

Larry Summers isn’t a song and people aren’t saying his claims are vindicated (and they’re not because these data were more or less known at the time of the controversy) and Summers hasn’t been avenged. So why all the drama?

Larry Summers has only been vindicated if you’re playing the same game the Harvard faculty was when they had Summers fired, i.e. engaging in a War on Science.

So internet, stop saying this study vindicates him!

6 thoughts on “Vindication of a scientist?”

  1. I do not think that word means what you think it means. Does it make sense to talk of acquittal for a suspect when he is released after evidence is found supporting his innocence?

    Unless you don’t believe his vindication is complete until his position and public image are fully restored. Which will never, ever happen, because he will henceforth forever be a misogynist. That’s not vindication, it’s just unjust.

  2. I’m saying this isn’t the first confirmation of his hypothesis. In terms of science, Summers was always on the side of angels. His downfall came when the Harvard faculty decided to ignore science and lynch him for stating a politically unpopular hypothesis.

    Using such dramatic rhetoric only reinforces the politicization of science that led to Summers’ dismissal.

  3. I dunno, I guess you hope for a rational world where facts and logic trump emotion, and the wisdom of the crowd is always well-informed by good data. Good luck with that.

    It’s kind of funny, really. As little as fifty years ago, Summers would have been vilified for claiming that women are equally good at math. This is the price of free speech –

    Just to play devil’s advocate: what was Harvard supposed to do in that situation? They can stand behind this fiery character and lose customers to Princeton, Stanford, Yale, etc., or they can cut the guy loose and risk the ire of the few academics who have actually been paying attention. Integrity doesn’t have much practical value if no one will listen to you.

  4. I don’t hope for a rational world where facts and logic trump emotion, etc. I hope for a world were someone can make plausible claims, seemingly supported by the data, in a SCIENTIFIC CONFERENCE, and not get punished for it.

    Demand for Harvard’s services would have gone up, not down, if they stood on principle, because the quality of their product (research) would have increased.

  5. Or it would have gone down, not up, because of expectations of discrimination against female students in all departments. Would you choose Harvard over Yale if you felt that you would never rate higher than a “B” average there? As president, his words become the perceived policy of the institution.

    Besides, it’s easy to retract a wrongful termination a few years down the line. Issue a public apology if/when public opinion changes (but of course don’t offer the guy his old job). I bet they have one written already.

    It’s not an unreasonable wish that you have. Trial by popular opinion is no way to go. I guess it’s a little disconcerting to watch the faculty at an elite institution degenerate into an angry mob.

  6. I have faith that a vast majority of the Harvard faculty will refrain from suffering from the ecological fallacy and applicants should have that expectation as well. She shouldn’t be going to Harvard if she thinks research on distributions of ability translate in any way into policy regarding individuals. Either she’s fallen victim to the fallacy herself, in which case she’s too dumb to attend, or she thinks the faculty falls victim to the ecological fallacy, in which case why the hell would she want to go to Harvard where she’d be taught by a bunch of idiots?

    It doesn’t change the fact that a particular woman is a genius if they find that one in three men are math geniuses but only one in a million women are.

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